By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
After more than a year of searching, Lakeridge Health has found the right person for the job.
Dr. Jose Pereira has been named as the inaugural Dr. Gillian Gilchrist Research Chair in Palliative Care at the Durham-based health care network.
Lakeridge is the first community hospital in the country to launch a fully funded research position for those with life-threatening illnesses.
First announced in March 2016, the position was funded by a $2.5 million endowment from Dr. Hak-Ming and Debbie Chiu, and will be managed by Queens University.
It was named in honour of Gilchrist, who founded the Lakeridge palliative care program in 1981.
Speaking after his formal introduction as research chair, Pereira says he wants to build on the foundation that has already been established at the hospital.
“I’d like in 10 years time that Lakeridge will be known around the world as a place where everyone does palliative care and it’s everyone’s business,” he states.
In the role of research chair, Pereira says he will work with “clinical, research and administrative colleagues to build a research program that will map out the level of access in Durham Region to various palliative care and hospice services and to identify that access even further.”
“So all healthcare professionals, no matter who you are, we are all on the same page and understand palliative care begins early and the resources available in the community,” he says.
Pereira brings a formidable resume in palliative care to Lakeridge.
He serves as Chief Scientific Officer for Pallium Canada, an organization he co-founded in 2001 with the mission of improving primary-level palliative care across Canada.
He also currently holds a clinical appointment as a palliative care physician consultant for the William Osler Health Services Brampton Civic Hospital, and formerly was the head of the division at the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, and medical chief of palliative care for Bruyere Continuing Care in Ottawa.
In 2009, Pereira led the establishment of the Champlain LHIN Regional Palliative Care Program, the first of its kind in Ontario.
He has received the Canadian Palliative Care Association’s Award of Excellence and Award of Leadership.
However, Pereira says he was not always so well versed in the field.
He recalled an incident more than 20 years ago when he was working in rural Manitoba, which changed his life and career as a physician.
A man, suffering from advanced colon cancer, came to Pereira’s office with his wife.
“I was the third physician he’d seen…he said, ‘I know I’m dying. I probably have a few months to live. I can’t live the way I’m living in severe pain…’.”
Pereira says after hearing the man’s words, he felt “absolutely helpless.”
“Because I, like many of my colleagues even still today, had no formal training in palliative care. In fact, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even heard the word ‘palliative’.”
After denying the man’s request for an increased dosage of morphine, Pereira says the patient uttered words he will never forget.
“He starting walking out of the office, turned and said ‘One day, I hope people like you can look after people like me.'”
The next day, Pereira found a medical journal open on his desk with an advertisement for a palliative care training seminar in Hamilton, which he attended, beginning the journey which has now brought him to Lakeridge.
Over the past 20 years, Pereira says he has come to realize “palliative care is not just about the terminally ill, palliative care is about living.”
Despite advances in the field, there are still many Canadians, according to some reports upwards of 80 per cent, who don’t have access to end-of-life care.
To Pereira, these statistics are debatable, but the establishment of the Lakeridge research program will ultimately create better access in Durham Region.
“If everyone has the knowledge, the numbers will go up immediately. That is what we are trying to achieve.”
Pereira, who has been selected for a five-year term as chair, is very impressed with the commitment he’s seen on the local level so far.
“I was blown away by the leadership I was introduced to at the hospital, the LHIN, and the community level.”
As the funders of the position, Dr. Hak-Ming and Debbie Chiu voiced their satisfaction with Pereira’s selection.
“It’s a great day. It’s great for us, a great day for Lakeridge Health and our community, and a great day for Queens as well,” Debbie, a former Lakeridge nurse, commented. “We are very, very pleased [that] an established researcher has been named honourable academic chair.”
Hak-Ming, an oncologist at the hospital, says the addition of the research element to Lakeridge’s palliative care program deepens its objective and impact.
“The choice of palliative care is logical, as it is an essential service in every community, both large and small,” he says.
Dr. Craig Goldie, a palliative care physician and professor at Queen’s University, says it is an often misunderstood form of care.
“Too many people see palliative care as a failure of treatment or a last resort. Overcoming this stigma and trying to build a better understanding of palliative care at all levels of government and particularly society is an area of interest.”
Lakeridge Health President and CEO Matthew Anderson says Pereira will be a welcome and valued addition to their team.
“We are clearly fortunate to have Jose join us with his deep passion not only for palliative care but for knowledge, education, and promotion,” Anderson says.